Ten years ago, I was nearly 30 and over $90,000 in debt. I had spent my twenties trying to build an interesting life; I had two degrees; I had lived in New York and the Bay Area; I had worked in a series of interesting jobs; I spent a lot of time traveling overseas. But I had also made a couple of critically stupid and shortsighted decisions. I had invested tens of thousands of dollars in a master’s degree in landscape architecture that I realized I didn’t want halfway through. While maxing out my student loans, I had also collected a toxic mix of maxed-out credit cards, personal loans, and $2,000 I had borrowed from my father for a crisis long since forgotten. My life consisted of loan deferments and minimum payments.
Like so many other lost children, I had fallen into a career in IT. The work was boring, but led to jobs with cool organizations””a lot of jobs, because I kept quitting them. As soon as I had any money in the bank, I’d quit and go backpacking in Southeast Asia. My adventures were life-changing experiences, but I was eventually left with a CV that was pretty scattershot.
My luck securing interesting jobs dried up. In 2001, I ended up living with my dad for four months and working at a banking infrastructure company in suburban Pittsburgh. I should have taken that as a warning that I needed to get it together, but I thought it was just an aberration. It was not.